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Don Feigert

Years ago I was told you shouldn’t try to feed mountain deer corn, because that hardy grain is too difficult for upland deer to digest, since their systems are not conditioned for it. So my solution back then was to give them acorns. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had a house in Hermitage with two large white oaks out back that produced prodigious yearly crops of mast. A couple of times each fall I gathered bushels of acorns and took them to F-Troop Camp in Warren County, where I piled the rich natural food up in the woods beyond the back yard. I did not realize I was doing more harm than good.

I know a little better now, and I always speak out whenever I see well-meaning outdoors folks hauling pickup loads of farmland field corn up to the mountains and depositing it in open highland meadows to “save” wild deer from starvation through the harsh days of winter. Often these folks are clueless to the fact that they are literally killing the animals they love with kindness.

The Game Commission identifies the following six good reasons to refrain from feeding deer in winter. Please pass this information along to your good-intentioned deer-feeding friends. First, placing supplemental foods at selected sites in the wild can congregate deer in unnatural densities. This invites the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and mange. Deer are better suited to wander the wild in small groups and find food where it naturally exists.

Second, maintaining regular feeding sites may influence whitetails to abandon their winter resting thickets and travel long distances to the “easy pickings” places, thereby expending excess calories and potentially causing malnutrition. Deer may also wander too close to dangerous roads or come into too much contact with humans, which may cause them to become aggressive or domesticated.

Third, artificial feeding violates the harsh but effective law of survival of the fittest. Nature’s way is to select the strongest individuals to get through winter and then propagate the next fall, creating a stronger, healthier herd. Food sites can allow feebler specimens to survive and breed and thereafter weaken the herd.

Fourth, supplemental feeding can create too large a deer herd on the short term than the natural carrying capacity of the land. Eventually those high densities of animals will degrade the habitat and make it unsuitable for themselves and other species.

Fifth, it’s true what I was told years ago about feeding deer on new or unnatural food sources, such as lowland corn that is suddenly made available to browse-oriented mountain whitetails. It can take weeks for their systems to adapt the necessary digestive microorganisms, and by that time the deer may have gorged themselves into starvation.

Finally, high numbers of deer at food sites can create stress and competition in the herd and force fawns out of the feeding hierarchy. Fawns are an important yearly resource to upgrade the herd, and they are better served among smaller groups doing natural feeding.

If you want to help deer on your private land, don’t feed them. Instead plant mast-producing trees and shrubs and evergreens for winter shelter. Also consider cutting stands of mature timber, so that deer and other wildlife can benefit from the natural foods and cover in the regenerating growth.

Good luck out there. And have a great week outdoors.

Trail Notes: Thanks for the great response to my new book The F-Troop Camp Chronicles. Paperback copies are on sale at the Book Rack and Daffin’s Candies in Sharon, Copyland in Hermitage, Greenville News, Courthouse Square Dry Goods Co in Mercer, Allied News and CDS Sporting Goods in Grove City and Neshannock Creek Fly Shop in Volant. Or just send $16.75 each for paperback copies, post-paid, or $36.75 each for limited edition signed and numbered hardcovers, post-paid, to Don Feigert, P.O. Box 1381, Hermitage, PA, 16148.



Don Feigert is the outdoors writer for THE HERALD and the ALLIED NEWS. He can be contacted at 724-931-1699 or dfeigert@verizon.net. Visit his Website at www.donfeigert.com.

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